Opposition grows to Shell’s Seattle plans

The port commissioners’ decision in February to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime for the specific use of Shell’s offshore equipment has been challenged by environmental groups as well as the city of Seattle. In early May, the city’s Department of Planning and Development, which has authority over the port property, determined that on-site moorage and maintenance of drilling equipment requires an additional use permit. Terminal 5 is currently permitted as a cargo terminal. 

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray strongly opposes the use of port property for Shell’s operations. In a statement released following the announcement that an additional permit would be required, Murray said, “While requiring a new permit may not stop the port’s plans, it does give the port an opportunity to pause and rethink this issue.” 

Murray’s objections are environmental. “This is an opportunity for the port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters, and reject this short-term lease.”

Other opponents to Shell’s presence in Seattle were planning public demonstrations, notably a “Festival of Resistance” in mid-May during which a flotilla of “kayaktivists” and other boaters were to muster in Elliott Bay near Terminal 5 to demonstrate their opposition under the banner of “sHell No!” 

The Coast Guard has established temporary safety zones and a Voluntary First Amendment Area near Terminal 5 for the planned in-water demonstrators. A 500-yard safety zone will be in place around the Noble Discoverer, Blue Marlin, Polar Pioneer, Aiviq and other associated vessels while underway. A 100-yard safety zone will be in place around the same vessels while moored or anchored. 

The Voluntary First Amendment Area is a regulated no-wake area in Elliott Bay that was developed following discussions with special interest groups. The Coast Guard is recommending use of this area but does not require it. 

Many in the Seattle maritime industry and other supporters of Foss’s plans to lease the port property are distressed by the controversy. The port plans to upgrade Terminal 5, and the $13 million, two-year lease would help defray those costs. Vigor’s Seattle shipyard is next door to Terminal 5 and Vigor has worked on Shell’s offshore fleet in the past. Vigor’s Tacoma, Wash., shipyard also recently completed construction of three 60’×24’×15’6″ breasting barges for Foss’s Terminal 5 operations. 

Alaska politicians are up in arms about the opposition to Shell’s intentions to drill again this year. Resolutions in both houses of the Alaska Legislature urged Seattle and the state of Washington to stop interfering with economic development in Alaska. 

Foss and Shell planned to begin Seattle staging operations in mid-May.

— Bruce Buls


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